Crucifix Dial, Adriaan Zeelst (1588)

Crucifix Dial, Adriaan Zeelst (1588)
Accession number: 
History of Science Museum

Date: 1588
Provenance: Leuven 
Maker: Adriaan Zeelst

On first seeing the faint image of the Crucifixion on this gilt-brass cross, you can imagine it hanging from the neck of a wealthy clergy member as he slowly thumbs away the once-defined lines of the engraving. Beautiful as the image is, the numbers that run down its sides indicate that this is not solely a crucifix pendant but, in fact, more complex. When propped open by a brass arm, the crucifix transforms into a standing dial and reveals a scale of latitudes that was previously accompanied by a compass. Inside is a small compartment that likely held a relic: a fragment of a saint's body or clothing. Also revealed is an inscription telling us it was made in Leuven by Adriaan Zeelst, an instrument maker who also wrote a treatise on the astrolabe in 1602 with the mathematician Gérard Stempel – an illustrated copy of which is also in the Museum (see 'external links').

A scientific instrument, a piece of jewellery, and a reliquary, this object is a precious reminder of just how significant scientific instruments were to many religious practices.